You could be entertained all summer and well into October 2016 for free in San Francisco. With the long days and nice weather, live music, dance and performing arts series pop up in parks and plazas throughout the Bay Area, serving everything from salsa lessons to Shakespeare. Here's a guide to some of the best free summer programs outdoors. If you prefer movies over live performances, consult our article about free summer films.
April-Sept.; mostly Wednesdays at 6 pm and Sundays at 2 pm
Live music of all genres including tango, salsa, and swing music to dance to, sprinkled with circus shows and dance performances.
At Union Square Park, 333 Post St., San Francisco 94108.
May-Oct., various dates
Dozens of music, dance, art and theater acts, reflecting cultures all over the globe, are presented outdoors. There are circus acts, Thursday lunchtime concerts, entertainment for kids and more, starring the likes of Yassir Chadley and the Moroccans, Dirty Cello and Zena Carlto. The rich line up is capped by Halloween fun and a costume parade on Oct. 31.
At Yerba Buena Gardens, between Mission and Howard and 3rd and 4th streets, San Francisco 94103. Picnics, blankets and low lawn chairs welcome, but no pets.
June 3-Aug. 26, Wednesdays at 12-1 pm
This mid-week, noon-time series in downtown Oakland features the Motown groovers West Grand Boulevard, accordion player Andre Thierry, and hip hop reggae cover band the Pocket.
At City Center Plaza Stage, 13th and Broadway streets, Oakland.
June 5-Aug. 28, Fridays at 8:30–10 pm
Professional instructors teach a different style or dance each week (including the cha cha, salsa and four-step hustle) and then open up the space to a dance party.
At Jack London Square, at the foot of Broadway, Oakland. Info: (510) 645-9292.
June 19–Aug. 21, Sundays at 2 pm
For 78 summers, concerts and performances have been presented in this natural amphitheater surrounded by redwoods and firs and scented with eucalyptus. This year’s series includes The O'Jays, the New Pornographers and the San Francisco Ballet. Started in 1938, the festival is now chaired by a member of the 4th generation of the Stern family.
At Stern Grove, 19th Ave. and Sloat Blvd., San Francisco.
September 3–18 and September 24–October 2
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival honors the Bard this summer by performing his lesser known dramedy The Winter's Tale.
At the Presidio, Main Post Parade Ground Lawn, between Graham St. & Keyes Ave., San Francisco (September); and McLaren Park, Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, San Francisco (September–October).
July 6-September 30, various dates (mostly Tuesdays through Fridays, plus Sundays)
Get a lunchtime musical break at 19 different plazas scattered from the Embarcadero and SoMa to the Castro, though mostly in the Financial District. Most days present a few concerts simultaneously. Performers include Andre Thierry, Josh Klipp and the Klipptones, the Saddle Cats and City Opera SF.
At various public plazas, San Francisco.
September 30–October 2
The annual three-day festival of bluegrass and beyond is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Past acts have included Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, M. Ward and Michael Franti. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen—the weather is usually nice and warm in early October. Golden Gate Park
Every year, the Opera previews their upcoming season's repertoire with a day-long concert in Golden Gate Park's Sharon Meadow. This year, they're preview their newest production of Aida and Madame Butterfly, among others, as well as the traditional finale of the sing along to the drinking song from Verdi's La Traviata.